Following the discussion about the judicial process with SANZAR CEO Greg Peters on last week’s Podslam, I dug out a paper that I’d written outlining some changes I believe could improve it. Here are the guts of that paper.
Commenting on an incident which saw Queensland Reds and Wallabies star Quade Cooper charged for a questionable high tackle, highly respected former Wallaby Tim Horan noted that ‘judicial processes need to be above reproach, and teams and…fans require clarity and consistency at all times’.
Mr Horan’s sagacious reflection is indicative of a growing chorus of criticism leveled at Rugby Unions judicial process, in particular its administration by South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby (SANZAR). Much like the rules of the sport which are open to considerable variances of subjective interpretation, the disparate nature of player sanctions and perceptions of an inadequate process reflect a judicial process struggling to rationalize its inconsistencies.
Rugby Union’s Judicial Process
As Rugby Union’s governing body, the IRB is tasked with creation and management of the rules and regulations that oversee the judicial process. The regulations provide the basis for determining the appropriate sanctions, rules governing the operation of judicial proceedings and guidelines that determine the participants in the process.
As the administrators of the premier professional tournaments in the southern hemisphere, SANZAR is permitted to implement suitable adjustments to the judicial process for practical purposes, provided the introduction of rules or procedures do not conflict with the ‘core principles’ of Regulation 17. In spite of these rules, questions have arisen as to the efficacy of the current regulatory provisions and the effectiveness of SANZAR’s administration of the judicial process given considerable variances in sanctions.
The stated goal of the IRB in relation to the judicial process is the achievement of consistency and uniformity in the determination of the seriousness of foul play and the administration of subsequent discipline, ensuring that the image and reputation of the sport is not adversely affected. The irony however is that accomplishment of this goal is unattainable under the current regulatory system.
Changes must be made so that offences are identified and classified, with specific values allocated to not only each offence, but each level of seriousness with which the offence was committed. Although the IRB’s regulations outline such measures, the current process allows for determination of the seriousness of an offence and the appropriate penalty in a subjective manner, determinative on the understanding and subjective opinion of the decision maker.
1. Learn from other codes
For the judicial process to attain an increased measure of credibility, objectivity must be the goal. Adopting a points based punitive system, as used in the NRL and AFL would provide a means of achieving an increased level of objectivity. The determination of an appropriate sanction is ascertained by a matrix that applies a set standard without variation in all cases, rather than reliance on the determination of one person whose judgments may vary. Despite criticisms of a points system, its implementation removes subjective elements of the judicial process thereby minimizing instances of disparate sanctions. Situations where one player can be suspended for a tackle for 5 weeks that fails to attract a sanction in another match, will be considerably reduced as the determination of the appropriate penalty period is objectively determined.
2. Appoint panels
In addition to this change the IRB must mandate the use of a judicial panel. A change to a three man panel would implement a ‘quasi-vetting’ process whereby judicial officers decisions are scrutinized and de-facto vetted on account of the need for a majority, which would likely result in a reduction in appeals and enhance the credibility of the judicial process. In relation to the Southern Hemisphere game, SANZAR must mandate the use of a judicial panel comprising three members, one a legally trained member to chair the proceedings, the second a former player at a professional level who is of reputable standing in the game and the third an officer from each country appointed by SANZAR as a specialist judicial officer who participates in judicial proceedings for all matches as a neutral member. As the majority of tribunals are held via teleconference or video conference online, such a process would not be an issue and would certainly improve the process.
The current process also contains superfluous levels of governance, with an on field incident of foul play possibly passing through multiple levels of administration. A change to a simpler Match Review Committee tasked with reviewing all games and bringing charges before a Judicial Panel, would ensure a greater level of consistency by entrusting responsibility for the management of the judicial process, to two distinct groups. The Match Review Committee would assesses every game using the same criteria, approaching their task with the same mindset. Whilst not completely removing the subjective element of the judicial process, such action would increase the objective nature of the process, leading to increased consistency in citing and sanctioning.
SANZAR could also instigate an internal agreement that addresses the often inexplicably strong sanctions for minor offences and weak sanctions for more serious offences. Such an agreement could ensure that intentional acts of foul play such as head-butting are more severely and appropriately punished as inconsistencies of this nature ultimately call into question the competency and credibility of judicial processes.
SANZAR must also improve its transparency, as its tournament specific guidelines are not publicly promulgated which is in contrast to the AFL who readily and professionally publish information on its judicial process. A transparent, well documented system would alleviate many of the concerns as to the inconsistent nature of the judiciary.
Despite operational constraints, SANZAR has made concerted efforts at improving their administration of the judicial process in 2012 such as through the introduction of new disciplinary cards, however it is clear that their still exists considerable work to be done by both the IRB and SANZAR. While any process with human involvement will contain elements of disparity, the adoption of a judicial process modeled on the AFL’s would inevitably lead to a competent, credible and most importantly consistent process as the human element is mitigated through the use of objective guidelines.
What do you reckon my learned colleague – would these changes improve the process?